"Un Ti Morceau"

"A Little Something," mini-lessons and reflections by our pastor, Father Paul Counce

The Role of Judge

Published December 07, 2016 by Fr. Paul Counce

Continuing with a new ti morceau concerning the work of the Diocesan Tribunal, I thought I’d mention some of the roles within it. As you know, the Tribunal is the “judicial branch” of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, and as the local Judicial Vicar, I head up its operations.

This means, first of all, that I’m the chief judge. I chair all meetings of the judges, and am the one who assigns either myself or one of our other judges to decide a case. Some of our cases demand a panel of three judges, and in those evaluations I ordinarily am expected by the Church’s canon law to be the presiding judge.

There are three other priests who hold the office of judge in our diocese: Father Jamin David is the other degreed canon lawyer: Church law ordinarily requires that judges have at least a licentiate degree in canon law, and Father Jamin earned his at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, in 2011. (I obtained my degree from St. Paul University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, ’way back in 1988.)

Yet Fathers Michael Moroney and Frank Uter also serve as judges on occasion. Since they do not have degrees in canon law they needed a special dispensation and permission for this. This was obtained for them in 1992 from the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome.

There are two other special kinds of judge. Every now and then it becomes necessary or advisable to ask an extern canon lawyer (from outside of the Diocese of Baton Rouge) to judge a case, or at least assist with a case in some way. This can be done on an ad hoc basis. We’ve done this in the past, for example, when a close family member or friend of one of our Tribunal personnel has brought a case before us: it just wouldn’t look good for us to judge such cases, even if we thought we could be objective about it!

And last – but from a theological standpoint, first – there is also the bishop. By virtue of his office as Vicar of Christ in the diocese and chief shepherd of the local Church, the diocesan bishop too could always serve as a judge in a Tribunal case. There are even a few special types of cases that can only be handled by him. Church law, however, indicates that ordinarily he should not judge “typical” cases, and instead that the judicial vicar and other judges do this work for him. Tribunal work can be quite time-consuming, so I am willing to bet that just about every bishop is grateful that he’s got others to fulfill this important ministry.

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